Innovation Awards: The winners revealed

John Baker


A strong shortlist of entries for this year’s ICIS Innovation Awards ensured a vigorous and lengthy debate over the merits of the winners in each category (see left). But once these were chosen, the overall winner for 2017 was selected quickly and unanimously.

So congratulations to AkzoNobel for its Interline 9001 advanced coating system for ship’s cargo tanks, which was acclaimed overall winner and takes first place in this year’s Best Product Innovation category.

The novel epoxy formulation and curing technology that underlies Interline 9001 has enabled AkzoNobel to take a greater than half share of total global chemical tanker new-build volume in 2016.



AzkoNobel’s Interline 9001 is applied by airless spray in a ship’s cargo tank

Interline 9001 is based on patented BiModal technology. The coating is formulated at lower stoichiometry than conventional epoxy amine systems and undergoes initial conventional cure at room temperature before being subjected to a high temperature post-cure, which induces homopolymerisation of unreacted epoxy groups in the presence of a catalyst.

This delivers very high conversion and therefore results in a very highly cross-linked network. This is the basis of the step change in chemical resistance.

The judges were impressed by the scope of the benefits offered by the innovation and the scale of its commercial impact. Interline 9001 offers superior chemical resistance, easier and more efficient tank cleaning, performance longevity and lower environmental impact. A decrease in operational costs is achieved by reducing cleaning time and materials by up to 70%.

AkzoNobel is no stranger to success in the ICIS Innovation Awards. It was the overall winner in 2015, with its Intersleek 1100SR patented slime release technology for coating ship’s hulls. Again, this offered economic and environmental benefits on a large scale and impressed that year’s panel of judges.

For the first time, the judges also recommended one of the other category winners for a special overall mention. So step forward Dow Chemical and its fluidised catalytic dehydrogenation (FCDh) process, which has the potential to decrease capital cost and energy usage in converting propane into propylene.

With the shift to ethane cracking in the US driven by the shale gas revolution, propylene is in tight supply and current propane dehydrogenation processes are not tailored to efficiently manage catalyst activity, heat input, reaction equilibrium, and unselective thermal reactions, comments Dow.

Rex Features


Innovation involves the commercialisation of R&D


The FCDh process won the Best Process Innovation category as the judges were particularly impressed by the selectivity of the catalyst and the high conversion rates achieved. The Dow process utilises a proprietary catalyst and design to achieve 45% propane conversion at 93mol% selectivity to propylene, with greater than 20% capital cost savings.

Dow says the FCDh process is a revolutionary platform reactor technology, with potentially numerous applications. It can be easily integrated into existing or new ethylene crackers enabling increased production or tailoring the facility for the desired amount of ethylene and propylene production.

Additionally, the reactors can be used to build new or retrofit existing ethylbenzene to styrene dehydrogenation facilities, butane to butene, or isobutane to isobutene plants. C4 dehydrogenation units can be integrated into refineries to upgrade butane or isobutane for use in the alkylation section to produce alkylate.

The other two company categories were won by Canada’s Enerkem (Innovation with Best Benefit for the Environment and Sustainability), which has developed and commercially implemented a large-scale municipal waste to chemicals technology; and California, US-based Genomatica (Best Innovation by a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise), for its novel process to produce 1,3-butylene glycol by fermentation of common sugars.

Full details of all these innovations can be found in the pages in this publication, where we interview the key people behind the award-winning products and processes.

Alongside the company awards, this year ICIS and Elsevier’s R&D Solutions, the overall sponsor of the awards, have again recognised individual efforts and expertise in chemicals innovation. Our congratulations go to 
Muralidhar Ingale of Adroit Pharmachem in Vadodara, India, for his development of a process to reduce waste in the production of copper phthalocyanine, and to Dr Mei Li of Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, Indiana, for her work in the design, implementation and commercialisation of a number of novel agricultural products.

These are winners, respectively, of the Alpha Innovator of the Year categories for Process Development and Process Optimisation and Environment and Sustainability. Both were clear winners in the judges’ opinion and, again, you can read interviews with each of them in this publication.

Also in the following pages are articles on the sponsors of the ICIS Innovation Awards: overall sponsor Elsevier’s R&D Solutions and category sponsors U.S. Chemicals, Exxon-Mobil Chemical and Accenture. ICIS is grateful to each and all of these for their support of the Awards this year and in previous years.


There was a strong emphasis on the commercial impact of the innovations under consideration this year, with judges looking for indications amongst the short-listed entries of the innovation having been brought to market and with the potential to have a reasonable impact in the marketplace.

The judges also looked at the significance of the innovation in terms of difficulty to achieve and the magnitude of the change it creates in the market. In the Best Product 
Innovation category, for instance, the AkzoNobel stood out as a clear winner given its rapid success in the market and the scale of the benefits on offer to users.

Mike McKenna, chief operating officer of US distributor Maroon Group, summed it up when he commented that Interline 9001 has been presented as a “finished, formulated solution with broad-based impact,” given the huge amount of chemical cargo activity. He also queried whether the coating would have wider use in rail transport as well as shipping, giving better discharge from rail containers.

The panel were intrigued by the Teijin entry of piezoelectric materials made from polylactic acid (PLA) for use in lightweight sensing and actuating applications. But as Pierre Barthelemy, executive director for 
research and innovation at Cefic, remarked, “It is interesting to see how specific functionalities can be developed from new, biobased polymers. However, it is not obvious from the entry where it is in terms of commercialisation.”

The Dow Chemical/Total entry detailing the use of oil-soluble polyalkylene glycols in engine oils also attracted support, but the judges questioned whether the innovation was rather more incremental than a real breakthrough.

In the Best Process Innovation category, the Dow FCDh entry was a clear winner, given the performance achieved by the process. As David Woods, opportunity identification manager, new product platforms, at ExxonMobil Chemical, commented, this is a “really nice process. The 40% yield/pass is phenomenal and the [catalyst] activity is high. It is also important that the technology can be retrofitted.”

Just Jansz added that “there is a large and growing global market opportunity for on-purpose production of propylene, as less propylene is being produced by steam crackers running on lighter feeds, for example ethane.”

Of the other two short-listed entries in this category, Clariant’s Veritrax digital chemical management system for use in the oil and gas industry was judged to be perhaps not that novel nor technically a process, while the Versalis technology for advanced styrenic polymers was thought interesting but to be part of the company’s ongoing improvement of long-held overall expertise in this area and thus not representing a step-change in the marketplace.

Veritrax, however, was thought to have the merit that it was widely applicable and timely in the oil services market, given the cost pressures in production from low oil prices.

As Peter Nieuwenhuizen, global RD&I 
director specialty chemicals at AkzoNobel, commented: “A lot of companies are trying to sell outcomes these days, rather than just products… and the Veritrax system help deal with the difficult problem of control of oil field chemicals.”


The Best Innovation by an SME category saw a lengthy debate on the merits of the three shortlisted entries, before the Genomatica entry on a new biobased process to make 1,3-butylene glycol (BG) won the day.

The technology, dubbed GENO BG, provides a high-quality, natural and sustainably-sourced glycol that has the potential for high appeal in cosmetics and as a high-quality product for industrial uses, says the company.

The GENO BG process contrasts with the conventional means of making BG starting with acetaldehyde, which is toxic, an irritant and a carcinogen. GENO BG also enables new markets in sports drinks and medical supplements. Genomatica harnesses the selectivity of biology to produce an especially pure BG. This has the potential to simplify the overall process while delivering a more desirable product.

Just Jansz, business and technology consultant and founder of Expertise Beyond Borders, commented that the Genomatica innovation “is a big step forward”. He explained that for him it has two key benefits: it is a biobased product that can address the personal care market because of its single enantiomer form, and that “the biobased process has considerably lower manufacturing costs” than the petrochemical-derived route.


Paul Bjacek, principal director and leader of Accenture’s chemicals and natural 
resources strategic research, added that Genomatica is a “good example of commercialisation” of biobased processes and has effectively led the field in recent years, with its bio-BDO and now bio-BG.

The short-listed Cellucomp and Avertana innovations both attracted plenty of support from the panelists, but lost out in the end due to their perceived more limited scale and scope of applicability.

The final company category, Innovation with Best Benefit for the Environment or Sustainability, also generated extensive discussion on the four diverse short-listed innovations. But again, the commercialisation of the innovation and likely future impact was a deciding factor in giving the category award to Enerkem.

After 15 years of development, the company is now running a full-scale facility in 
Edmonton, Canada, transforming municipal solid waste to useful chemicals such as methanol and ethanol using waste gasification and a Fischer-Tropsch catalytic reaction.

The technology in fact won an ICIS Innovation Award back in 2015 in the Best Business Innovation category, but the judges felt this year’s entry, focusing on the environmental and sustainability merits of the innovation, merited an award this year in this category.

As Just Jansz commented, “Enerkem has now achieved full-scale commercialisation, which is a formidable achievement for any new process technology.”

Of the other challengers in this category, the Kemira process to recycle starch during packaging board making was deemed significant, but again the early stage of development played against it.

As Christina Valimaki, senior director, chemicals segment marketing at Elsevier’s R&D Solutions, pointed out, “The packaging board market is seeing rapid growth and the innovation has the potential to have a sizable impact.”

ICIS and the sponsors congratulate all the winners selected to receive awards this year. The innovations they have developed will almost certainly have an impact as they go forward in the market, both commercially and in terms of benefits to the environment – most have a strong element of reduced waste or higher efficiency as well as product performance to recommend them.

We also thank the judges who gave their time and expertise freely and ensured the judging was carried out rigorously and fairly. Judges with interests in any of the short-listed candidates revealed their personal 
involvements during the discussions and stood aside during the decision-making as when appropriate.

I hope you find the innovation stories in the following pages inspirational and that they might spark some ideas for your own innovation journeys. Perhaps, dear reader, we might see you as an entrant next year?


Christina Valimaki is senior director, chemicals segment marketing, for Elsevier, a leading provider of information solutions to science, health and technology professionals. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

David Woods is opportunity identification manager, new product platforms, at ExxonMobil Chemical, based in Baytown, Texas, US. He manages the pursuit of new product opportunities.

Just Jansz is an independent board member and advisor, and founder and MD of business and technology management consultancy Expertise Beyond Borders. He has 30 years of experience with LyondellBasell and its predecessors.

Mike McKenna is chief operating officer for Maroon Group, a North American specialty chemical and ingredients distributor. He is responsible for operational excellence, global supply partnerships and marketing, and is a member of the company’s M&A team.

Peter Nieuwenhuizen is global research, development and innovation director, specialty chemicals, at AkzoNobel, where he is focused on making chemistry both more profitable and sustainable. He joined the company in 2011 after five years at consultancy AD Little. He has a PhD from Leiden University.

Pierre Barthelemy is executive director for research and innovation at Cefic, representing the priorities of the chemical industry towards the EU institutions for innovation-related aspects. He joined Solvay in 1988 and was seconded to Cefic in 2014. He has a PhD from the University of Liege, Belgium.

Paul Bjacek is principal director and lead for Accenture’s chemicals and natural resources strategic research, with over 25 years’ experience in the process industries, including project activities in manufacturing, marketing and distribution. He has a master’s degree from LSE in London and a BSc in chemistry and business.


The future of the chemical industry relies on those who overcome challenges and drive critical advancements in compounds, formulations, advanced materials, and production processes. In the chemicals industry, continuous innovation and process improvement have been the key to creating considerable value for customers and investors.

And yet, many accomplishments from the industry are not as visible to the market as they could be. Industrial chemists, for instance, improve product performance and achieve customer requirements by innovating at the molecular level and discovering the changes in substances and processes that may have important implications to manufacturing, the environment and safety.

The same is true for the engineers working in manufacturing, where process improvement and engineering design is the focus. Identifying changes to plant design, equipment and processes can meaningfully improve safety, reduce cycle times and minimise operational disruptions.

Reaching that “alpha moment” – achieving an important milestone for the first time – may happen in an instant, but one does not get there without unrelenting perseverance, knowledge and skill.

It is important to recognise those who are making these strides. With demands for high performance products; faster returns on innovation investments; lower costs of research and manufacturing; lower emissions; and safer manufacturing, the future of the chemical industry relies on those who overcome challenges and drive critical advancements in compounds, formulations, advanced materials and production processes.

For this reason, Elsevier’s R&D Solutions is honoured to again sponsor this year’s ICIS Innovation Awards, celebrating the companies and individual innovators who have created and commercialised notable product and process innovations in the industry. Let us celebrate those who are achieving commercial success through innovation while also paving the way for us to pass on a better Earth to future generations.

About Elsevier’s R&D Solutions: Elsevier’s R&D Solutions is a portfolio of tools that integrate data, analytics and technology capabilities to help chemical companies more efficiently achieve commercial success, safety, and compliant manufacturing for chemical products and processes.


ExxonMobil Chemical is one of the largest chemical companies in the world. Our unique portfolio of commodity and specialty businesses generates annual sales of more than 24m tonnes of prime products. The commitment by ExxonMobil Chemical to maintain a leadership position in technology is fundamental to our continued success. We have a broad portfolio of proprietary process, product and product applications expertise.

Now, more than ever, chemicals are the building blocks of modern life. Chemicals play a key role in fields integral to human progress, including transportation, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, as well as efficient manufacturing and packaging of a wide array of consumer goods.

As an organisation with technological achievements that have enriched the lives of people everywhere, ExxonMobil Chemical is pleased to sponsor the Best Innovation by a Small or Medium-sized Enterprise category of the 2017 ICIS Innovation Awards.


Accenture is pleased to sponsor the Best Product Innovation category of the 2017 ICIS Innovation Awards. In today’s business environment, companies need to continually reinvent themselves.

At Accenture, we take an innovation-led approach to help clients “imagine and invent” their future. We are always looking ahead to anticipate what’s next. We use an innovation-led approach to help our clients develop and deliver disruptive innovations, and to scale them faster.

From research, ventures and labs to studios, innovation centres and delivery centres, we help companies imagine the future and bring it to life.

Accenture’s chemical industry group helps chemical companies apply innovation, transformational strategies and digital enablement for growth, differentiation and superior operations.

We have over 30 years of experience working in all segments of the chemical industry – including basic and intermediate chemicals, polymers, fibres and elastomers, agricultural chemicals, paints and coatings, industrial gases, and other specialty chemicals – across the value chain.

Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialized skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions – underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network – Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With approximately 401,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives.


U.S. Chemicals, a Maroon Group company, is an organisation dedicated to enriching the lives of its employees and community by practicing sustainability and respect for the environment. U.S. Chemicals is pleased to sponsor, for the ninth consecutive year, the Innovation with Best Benefit to Environment or Sustainability category of the ICIS Innovation Awards.

U.S. Chemicals is a diversified chemical distribution company that supplies quality chemicals at worldwide pricing. For customers and supply partners U.S. Chemicals is a trusted collaborator, whose nimble team is dedicated to leveraging decades of experience, relationships and a can-do attitude to assess risk, thus making decisions quickly and acting boldly and accurately.

U.S. Chemicals is set apart by the speed, flexibility and innovativeness of its employees. The team leads customers in identifying the best solutions for each opportunity and business challenge, grasping suppliers’ and customers’ needs and solving problems.

In addition to a variety of sustainability programmes – recycling, creation of green space/organic gardening, heating/lighting efficiency initiatives, paperless initiatives and wellness programmes at the headquarters in Darien, Connecticut – U.S. Chemicals seeks suppliers, principals and logistics providers that have sustainable programmes and processes in place. Our business partners are vetted to ensure that standards are met.

Social responsibility and giving back have long been part of U.S. Chemicals’ corporate culture and the company has an extensive history of supporting organisations in the environmental, educational and health arenas.



ICIS Premium news service

The subscription platform provides access to our full range of breaking news and analysis

Contact us now to find out more

Speak with ICIS

Now, more than ever, dynamic insights are key to navigating complex, volatile commodity markets. Access to expert insights on the latest industry developments and tracking market changes are vital in making sustainable business decisions.

Want to learn about how we can work together to bring you actionable insight and support your business decisions?

Need Help?

Need Help?